In the “Lean Forward” advertisements on MSNBC, White House correspondent Chuck Todd speaks of the opportunity and responsibility he has because of his access to the inner world of Washington. I feel the same about my visits to Israel as National President of Hadassah. But the most impressive part isn’t the access to the so-called corridors of power. The time I get to spend in the corridors of healing never fails to inspire me about the achievements of the modern state of Israel.
So it was recently, amidst long sessions of Hadassah Medical Organization board meetings, that I had a chance to make get-well visits to patients. Let me share one of them.
On the seventh floor of the new Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower with its stunning view of the Judaean Hills, I met David Fintzi, 19. Fintzi is an activist in reviving the Jewish community in Romania, and about to begin medical school in Bucharest. In early July, he’d finished his exams and booked a ticket for an Israel visit. In the meantime, he went to visit a friend in the old Jewish community of Iasi in Moldavia. What happened while they were touring is still unclear. Fintzi somehow veered too close to the cable of the Iasi electric train. 27,000 volts of electricity ran through his lean body. He was electrocuted and he caught on fire.
There is no advanced emergency facility in Iasi. A helicopter crew flew David to Bucharest.
Electric burns differ from thermal or chemical burns because they cause more damage deep underneath the skin. They are more difficult to diagnose, and they can cause shock and strain to the heart, kidneys and other organs.
The question was raised almost immediately: would Fintzi be better off in Israel? Think about it. Romania, with 20 million citizens, is a much larger country than Israel. The academies of Romanian medicine are much older than those we have established in modern times in Israel, while absorbing immigrants and fighting wars. And David Fintzi lives in Romania.
But for a person in need, the question is always there. Would we do better in Israel? I get inquiries every single week from all over the world—and yes, from the US—asking if patients should seek help in the modern Jewish state. Think about this. It’s huge.
David’s parents Andre and Manuella made the tough decision to fly their perilously ill only child to Israel. The Jewish Agency got involved and helped to arrange the transfer.
The Hadassah air ambulance service created by pilot/physician David Linton picked him up. On board were Hadassah internist Marc Romaine, a new immigrant from South Africa; and Nurse Kyrill Grozovsky, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. This is the power of the ingathering of our people—bringing talent and dedication from around the world. Two and a half hours after they took off, they made a bumpy landing, and sped by ambulance up the winding road to Jerusalem.
The Burns Unit at Hadassah Hospital which would provide life-saving expertise for David Fintzi earned its reputation the hard way. First, in the Yom Kippur War, the 40th anniversary of which we are marking these days, the wards were flooded with soldiers with tank battle wounds. Plastic surgeons from the Diaspora flew in to bolster the local doctors. Horrendous injuries from terror needed new modalities and a skin bank.
In a rasping voice, David Fintzi, sitting up and eating, thanked me. His Mom hugged me and wept. “Every day our son is getting better. Thank you, and thank the women of Hadassah,” she said.
Every one of us was being embraced at that moment.
On the day I visited these patients, the Hadassah air ambulance was picking up three other patients-- from Switzerland, from Spain and from Hungary. Patients from England, Kiev, and American tourists in Egypt have also been brought to Israel recently for treatment, as was a government minister from one of our neighboring Arab countries. Also, let’s not forget the Prime Minister of Israel who was down the hall recently. When the President of the United States of America visited Israel, sabra trauma surgeon Avi Rivkind was asked to be on call, just in case.
In the book Start-Up Nation, Israel’s extraordinary high tech success is connected to the drive to constantly evaluate and to change protocols and technology to do better next time. Ideas are shared among all with little concern for hierarchy. I see that in the hospital every day.
After the Boston Marathon bombing, the local team paid homage to Israeli medicine. Every sixth year student at the Hebrew University-Hadassah medical school, whether he or she will be an ophthalmologist or an orthopedist, whether he or she is a Jew or an Arab, is required to take a trauma medicine course. No matter where life will take them, they need to be prepared for all situations. One of the messages they come away with is to evaluate how well they did, and to be prepared better for next time.
May that next time never come. May we and our loved ones not need Israeli medical skills. Still, aren’t we all glad and proud it’s there if we do!
Marcie Natan is the National President of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America.